Publishing group VNU recently donated the painting River Landscape (1842) by Willem Roelofs to the Gemeentemuseum. This gift prompted the museum to organize an exhibition this summer of early works by several painters from the Hague School which are clearly inspired by Romanticism.
Hague School artists wanted art to be based on everyday reality. Remarkably, however, several painters of the Hague School had their artistic roots in Romanticism, a movement that took precisely the opposite view. Romantic artists sought to flee reality, drawing on fantasy and history for their inspiration. They also developed a great fascination for distant countries and peoples, whereas the painters of the later Hague School were more interested in the common people they encountered in the street and at the market. Andreas Schelfhout and Wijnand Nuyen were prominent Romantic landscape painters. Schelfhout had a predilection for Dutch winter landscapes, while Nuyen travelled to France, where he was inspired by the coastlines of Normandy and Brittany. His great example was French artist Eugène Isabey, who also taught Johan Barthold Jongkind. Johannes Bosboom also travelled to France, where he painted Rouen cathedral and several harbour scenes. During a trip along the Rhine in Germany in 1841 with his master Hendrik van de Sande Bakhuyzen, Willem Roelofs painted Romantic river scenes, one of which was recently donated to the Gemeentemuseum by VNU. Jozef Israëls took as his example Dordrecht-born artist Ary Scheffer, who caused a stir in Paris with his paintings of dramatic scenes from works by Dante and Goethe. Israëls also encountered the fishing genre developed at the Düsseldorf Academy. Jacob and Matthijs Maris studied German Romantic book illustrators, including Richter and Rethel. So, although clear Romantic influences can be discerned in the early work of some painters of the Hague School, the Romantic movement in the Netherlands was only small. The Realism that succeeded Romanticism resonated far more with Dutch artists. France saw the emergence of the Barbizon School, a group of painters who preferred to paint outdoors, in natural surroundings. Their landscapes were simple, direct depictions of the area in and around Fontainebleau forest and the village of Barbizon. Artists like Jozef Israëls and Willem Roelofs travelled to Barbizon to see the new developments for themselves. Their great inspirations were Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau. Dutch artists met up in the summer in Gelderland, particularly in the area around Oosterbeek, to paint and sketch in the woods and by the river. The artists who made the summer pilgrimage to Gelderland – to what some even referred to as the ‘Dutch Barbizon’ – included Johannes and Gerard Bilders, a father a son, and also Willem Maris and Anton Mauve. Jozef Israëls focused on depicting the lives of farmers and fishermen. Weissenbruch and Mesdag were more drawn to the dunes and the sea. The first reference to the ‘Hague School’ was in 1875, to denote a group of artists, all of whom were Realists, even though some had their roots in the Romantic movement, as can be seen from 18 June in this exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum.